I don’t know how I missed the news in the local papers, but on Google News today I learnt that Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times will have to follow new rules to operate in Singapore.
They will have to appoint a legal representative in Singapore "to accept service of any notice or legal process on behalf of the publisher" and submit a security deposit of 200,000 Singapore dollars (about $127,000), says the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA). I visited the government website to verify the reports in the Guardian and Reporters Without Borders which were picked up by Google News.
The ball starts rolling with the Far Eastern Economic Review which has been given time until September 11 to follow the new rules. And it has to follow them "before it can be allowed to circulate in Singapore", says the ministry.
I don’t read the Review but, according to Reporters Without Borders, it published an interview with Singapore opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, calling him a "martyr" because of various lawsuits against him.
The ministry, however, says as a foreign publication it has to follow the same rules as other "offshore newspapers". Offshore newspapers need a permit to circulate in Singapore. The Review’s circulation will remain capped at 10,000 copies, says the ministry.
The same rules will apply to Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times when their current permits expire. They have so far been exempted from these rules laid down by the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. But "there have been changes in the media scene . In view of these developments, MICA has reviewed the exempt status of offshore newspapers circulating in Singapore," says the ministry.
It adds that "it is a privilege, not a right, for foreign newspapers to circulate in Singapore" and they "should not interfere in the domestic politics of Singapore".
I wonder if this means Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times will also have their circulation capped like the Far Eastern Economic Review. That’s not mentioned in the ministry press release online.
The great thing about Singapore is it’s so cosmopolitan, so well-connected to the world. Internet broadband connections are widely available and even news kiosks at some of the bus interchanges sell Time, Newsweek and The Economist. And if one visits one of the bigger bookshops like Borders or Kinokuniya, one can get anything from Wired magazine to New Yorker and Vanity Fair. It will be sad if one can’t get them as and when one wants. The local media is fine, but it’s only natural to be curious about what others are saying.